SINGAPORE – Singapore faces one of the “worst threats” from foreign parties seeking to undermine the country, Justice and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Monday (October 4th).
During the second reading of the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (FICA), Shanmugam spoke about a report by the French Military Academy’s Institute of Strategic Research on Influence Operations, which named Singapore as one of the country case studies.
While Shanmugam did not name the country on which the institute’s findings were focused, the report is entitled “Chinese Influence Operations – A Machiavellian Moment”. In the 646-page report, the institute wrote about the extensive network China has built over the years to exert its influence around the world, including Singapore.
The report identified several factors that made Singapore vulnerable, including its size, hyperconnectivity, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, Shanmugam said.
He also stated that through a counter-narrative of Singaporean identity and its quick responses to hate speech, Singapore is resilient and one of the best-prepared states in the fight against information manipulation and hybrid threats, he added.
“I’m not as optimistic as the people who wrote this report. Our racial and religious mix can easily be exploited by different countries. And we see a steady build-up of different narratives, which is done very skillfully. “
The narratives aren’t overt propaganda, but they condition people to think certain ways, especially on foreign policy issues, and often appeal to a greater racial identity beyond Singaporean identity, Shanmugam said.
The minister added that the people of Singapore and most MPs are not really aware of these serious threats.
The proposed FICA will empower the Home Secretary to order the removal of content deemed part of hostile information campaigns. It will also enable him, among other things, to force social media companies to disclose information in order to investigate and combat hostile communication activities of foreign origin.
The law does not apply to Singaporeans expressing their own views on political matters unless they are representatives of a foreign client, the Home Office said.
Past cyberattacks against Singapore
Singapore has recently been exposed to cyber attacks and cyber manipulation, Shanmugam said.
These included the 2018 cyber attack when hackers targeted SingHealth’s databases and stole data from 1.5 million patients, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s.
In the area of cyber manipulation, Singapore saw a coordinated Hostile Information Campaign (HIC) attempt to undermine its foreign policy position during a period of tension with another country between 2016 and 2017.
“Online comments and videos were uploaded from social media accounts that had been dormant for many years. Many of them were in Mandarin and targeted our Chinese-speaking population, ”Shanmugam said. The content became widespread and aimed to influence sentiment among Singaporeans, he added.
In another case, during a period of bilateral tension with a country in 2018, Singapore saw a sharp surge in online comments criticizing the city-state, many from anonymous accounts.
“I would like to say that these have been at a relatively low level so far, with the exception of the strategic move of trying to condition the thinking of our people,” said Shanmugam.
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